Today’s announcement that former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini have been banned from all football-related activities for eight years underlines the importance for all organisations, within sport and beyond, of maintaining the highest standards of conduct and transparency.
Governing bodies and administrators, suppliers, sponsors, athletes and their entourages, as well as non-profit organisations, have a responsibility to ensure that sport excites and inspires generations young and old.
In his press conference this morning, Blatter gave the impression of someone in denial at the gravity of the accusations against him.
Despite the reputation of football and the governing body he had run for nearly 18 years being dragged through the mire, its reputation in tatters, Blatter appeared defiant instead of humble.
He said: “Suspended for eight years? For what? I am sorry that as President of FIFA I am a punching ball, I am sorry for FIFA, but I am most sorry about me and how I am treated. Something is wrong in this system, I have to fight to right the rights of this place.”
Blatter also refused to recognise the ruling banning him from football before adding: “I am not ashamed even if I am suspended, I am still President. The committee cannot go against President.”
It is a truism of every crisis that how it is dealt with has a significant impact on long-term reputation.
When an organisation or an individual appear to put profits or themselves before people or the important issue in question, they do far more harm than good.
Football is, after all, the People’s Game, and therefore its integrity and wellbeing affects more fans than any other sport on the planet.
The revelations of corruption, bribery and embezzlement this year have been so toxic that there was little Blatter could have done to alleviate the damage the organisation – and football in general – has suffered.
Blatter has not accepted that FIFA has a problem, instead pointing the finger at his accusers, at the media and anyone else who dares to criticise him.
If he had declared in the first instance that he and his colleagues would do everything to assist the investigators and that they would accept the rulings made against them – and those accusations go far and wide – he may have salvaged a little bit of credibility for the organisation even if his own reputation was already beyond repair.
But his determination to cling on, to fight until the end and to refuse to recognise those who have made rulings against him give the impression of desperation and guilt, crazed and delusional.
By refusing to show empathy or any understanding for the bigger picture once again shows what a grave situation this is for FIFA and for football.
So what sports crisis communications planning can other organisations do to avoid suffering their own PR disasters?
Here are our simple tips:
1. Plan plan and plan some more. Put a robust crisis communications plan in place, identifying for every possible scenario and make sure that everyone within your organisation knows the process should disaster strike
2. Identify a senior member of your team to be the face of the organisation and ensure that they have had robust media training to deal with everything from a calm trade interview to a doorstep media ambush or a packed press conference
3. Provide regular updates via your own communication channels as well as regular media briefings
4. Co-operate fully with any investigation that takes place, as well as conducting your own transparent inquiry and make sure that you learn lessons to avoid problems recurring and to rebuild your reputation
Are you confident that your organisation could cope if you encountered a crisis?
When did you last review your crisis planning?
Do you undertake regular media training?
Get in touch with the Calacus crisis communications team to find out how we can help you in 2016.